Writing Poetry

A charming shop front in St. Malo, France when I visited in 2009.

For a long time, I admired poets and felt they breathed rare air. I had the words and the emotions they had, but felt that if I’d write poetry, I’d shatter. 

Then in the summer of 2020, my friend in England killed herself. During the next ten days, there was another suicide, a teenage cancer diagnosis, a mom with brain cancer, an adoption process stopped, all connected to people very close to me. The sad bad tragic news felt relentless, and I spiraled down into a blackness that lasted for about a year and a half.

That initial spate of summer tragedies fell right during the time that I was taking a five-week Creating Writing course. Every day, we were assigned to produce two writing projects, and the next day we’d share one of those projects to the class for their critique. That class was the most wonderful narcotic in my devastated, awful season. Every day I’d walk into the classroom and for ninety minutes I was in a parallel universe that felt light and airy and delightful. We played with words, read beautiful lines, gave suggestions to improve words. We laughed and cried and sometimes we still talk about Jonny’s “polysyllabic flamingo” because his flamboyant phrase, created in that class, will never die.

I started writing poetry because it was an assignment. I thought the textbook looked boring. I might be justified for feeling this way:

But the book was fascinating, accessible, and gave me endless ideas. Then I surprised myself and enjoyed the challenge of writing poetry and liked some of my lines. I was told I need to keep writing poetry. And instead of shattering me as I’d feared, writing poems started healing me, started bringing back pinpricks of light.

I’ll never be a great poet because I’m too impatient to work long and hard at it. But what’s greatness? The point of poetry is to communicate in a specific, concise form, and while most of my pieces are pathetic and will never be public, I feel more whole and at rest when I let a poem dribble itself onto the page—especially when I’m troubled, sad, or mad. I’m not proud of this, but I can be very articulate when I’m angry.

Early one morning last month I scratched down sad, angry lines and felt better all day for it. Maybe it was a seed of hope planted. Maybe it was part of self-regulating. Maybe it was only inked long-hand scrawled on every other line that will never see daylight.

Poetry is a viable outlet for lament, I’ve found. Lament is hope, and to lament in poetry on a page embodies, for me, my answer to the mysterious, alluring call of hope. 

Poetry also lends itself to exuberance. Think of Miriam, Hannah, Elizabeth, and the forms their joy took in dramatic declarations and vivid word pictures. 

My poetry hasn’t become exuberant yet. It tends toward lament, abstraction, or reflection, which is what this last blog post was. Incidentally, that poem was from an assignment in the class that introduced me to writing poetry, and the idea of an abstract poem came from that boring-looking book.

More lines may or may not appear here on the blog in the future. Don’t hold your breath, but don’t be surprised.

12 thoughts on “Writing Poetry

  1. I feel more whole and at rest when I let a poem dribble itself onto the page—especially when I’m troubled, sad, or mad

    Yes, I totally get this. There is something so cathartic about writing poetry.
    And I too will never be a great poet because I too lack the patience to make every line perfect.

  2. “I feel more whole and at rest when I let a poem dribble itself onto the page.” I like that phrase. Lately sometimes I feel like writing poetry again, especially when I’m out walking. Then I forget about it before I have a chance to document my musings. But your post inspires me to try to remember to let a poem dribble on to the page. –Linda Rose

  3. As I started reading the post, I quickly noticed that we were in this class together. I had a student to whom I suggested writing his sadness in the form of poetry and it was healing for him.

    I really enjoy your posts. Thank you, Anita.

  4. Good on you, Anita! I’d be delighted to read more of your poetry- especially the poems of lament. What a wonderful, loving way to process emotions! You’re taking pain and sorrow and transforming them into empathy and beauty. (Also, you quoted my favourite poet in the world with that flamboyant flamingo line. Thanks:))

  5. I really enjoyed this post, and these lines: ” I feel more whole and at rest when I let a poem dribble itself onto the page—especially when I’m troubled, sad, or mad.”

  6. George McDonald described a poet as someone who is glad of things and makes others glad of them too.

    In the play “our Town, Thornton Wilde depicts the magnitude of the present, the fullness of each moment amidst the fleeting nature of time. In the play Emily wonders if anyone ever realizes life while they live it-life as it is, “every, every minute” the response she receives is pointed “No. the saints and poets, maybe they do some.”
    Though I am not a poet and know it, I delight in the meaningful expressions of lament, gladness and truth in poetry.
    Poetry in scripture is matchless!

    Ant R.

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